Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 November 2019

Lionel Messi watches on as Antoine Griezmann leads Barcelona rout of Betis

Barca run out 5-2 winners thanks to four goals in an 18-minute blitz either side of half time at Camp Nou

Antoine Griezmann scored his first goals for Barcelona as they came from behind to hammer Real Betis 5-2 in their opening home game of the new La Liga season.

Four goals in an 18-minute blitz either side of half time helped the Catalans to their first win of 2019/20 against a Real Betis side who had won the equivalent fixture last season.

Griezmann, who had never scored a goal at Camp Nou for his previous club, Atletico Madrid, struck two fine efforts, a half-volley from a cross and a curling shot from outside the area - which he celebrated by throwing red and blue glitter over himself from his outstretched arms in a homage to his basketball hero LeBron James.

Barca's biggest stars, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, weren’t fit to play and watched pitch side with their children. Fellow attacker Ousmane Dembele watched from the stands with friends, absent with a hamstring tear and, according to many at the club, absent in the mind after a series of incidents that has left questions over his professionalism. Barca’s absences and last week’s opening defeat in Bilbao had left raised questions over hopes to win a ninth Spanish title in 12 years.

With 16-year-old Ansu Fati called up to the senior squad, the nervousness which prevailed in the high summer heat increased when Betis took the lead, Nabil Fekir finishing a rapid counter attack after 15 minutes.

The sabre rattling front page of the Catalan daily Sport had urged the team to win without Messi, yet Barca were stung by Betis’ early bite. Ivan Rakitic was again absent, leaving Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong and Sergi Roberto in midfield. Soon Ernesto Valverde’s side began to move through the gears. The experience of Gerard Pique, playing his 500th game for the club, putting him eighth on the all-time appearance list, helped. With the always-assured Busquets in front of him to quell Betis attacks, the home team steadied and drew level with a 42nd-minute volley which Griezmann stretched to reach from Roberto's cross. Rafinha, playing to the left of Greizmann in a three-man attack, missed an open goal before half time which led the under-pressure Valverde to curse in front of the huge 79,159 crowd.

The Roberto-Griezmann combination worked again five minutes after the interval, the Catalan, who now plays in midfield rather than right-back, teeing up the Frenchman to curl a shot past goalkeeper Daniel Martin.

Another local boy, winger Carles Perez, just 21 and one of six players from the youth system in the Barca team, made it 3-1 after 56 minutes as he controlled a ball from Nelson Semedo with one touch across his body, taking two opponents out of the equation, before side footing home for his first senior goal on his Camp Nou debut.

The loud, happy, crowd relaxed, they sang for Messi and cheered some more when Jordi Alba, one of Messi’s usual foils, made it 4-1 after 60 minutes after a pass from captain Busquets.

Greizmann was involved in the Barca's fifth, splitting the defence with a pass to substitute Arturo Vidal, who stretched to shoot in off the post.

The goals continued, Loren Moron earning applause from the home crowd after shooting past Marc-Andre ter Stegen into the top corner with 11 minutes left. It was the best goal in a breathless encounter.

Forward Ansu Fati, 16, entered the arena to a huge roar on 78 minutes, becoming the youngest Barca debutant since 1941. Playing for the Juvenil A team coaches by former goalkeeper Victor Valdes rather than the reserves which is the step below the first team, the attacker from Guinea-Bissau showed enough skill and maturity in his short time to point towards a very bright future.

“I didn't believe it, I only have words of thanks,” he said. That was before he earned a huge hug from Messi after a match when Barca started nervously without their main man, but then showed they could perform admirably in his absence.

Updated: August 26, 2019 08:23 AM

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